We spent the weekend at Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor water park, with Nona and Papa. On the last day, we played in the wave pool, bobbing up and down, jumping to keep our heads above water, playing tag when the water was calm. We let 1,000 gallons of water pour down over our heads while we squealed. We put our feet over spouting water and dashed between the drops of the fountains. When it was time, we headed for a shower.
As we were washing up together, Vesta, newly 7, said “I’m luck to be alive.”
“You are,”I agreed, emphatically, saying my silent mantra-prayer (please.don’t.let.her.die,please.don’t.let.her.die) to that venegeful God in the clouds that took my son and could take my daughter any time His coffee isn’t hot enough or His pasta too soft.
“We all are,” she stated, stomping her feet in the water that pooled around the drain. The warm water drenching the top and back of her head as she only looks down in the shower. “Harvey was…not so lucky.” Stomp, stomp stomp.
“No, he wasn’t. But we are. You’re right.” Pray pray pray. Stomp stomp stomp. Sensing the warm water on our hair and skin.
Lucky. We are lucky.
Sometimes I forget that fact. Sometimes I forget that I never thought I’d feel “lucky” again after you died. That luck would never apply to me.
Modern medicine saved Vesta and me. She was stuck. Pressing her little neck and shoulder against my pubic bone for hours. The constant pressure, contractions and baby head, swelling my bladder making it even harder, and eventually impossible, for her to get out on her own. I pushed at home for four hours. We got to the hospital and they were “committed to my vaginal birth”, though I no longer was but without the energy or courage to say so, so they put us on Pitocin. I fell to the cold, cement floor as my body responded with ferocious, mechanical contractions. I had been laboring for almost 24 hours at home, unmedicated, and this was by far the worst pain I had ever felt. By far. I felt like a machine had taken over my body. I was unable to have any control. The contractions of seemingly every muscle in my body wracked me and brought me to my knees, to the floor. She was still stuck. No progress. The midwife had had both of her hands inside me at home trying to free her little body from my bones and swollen tissue, to no avail. The hospital tried to force her out with drugs. They offered the epidural I never wanted and I accepted. Maybe she would move down on her own while I rested, numb, but my body continued to force my baby out, stuck and cramped and terrified, I would imagine. I welcomed the relief for myself and felt deep guilt and fear that my baby got no relief as I slept. No progress. So they booked an operating room and wheeled us in there and saved us.
I didn’t see it like that, though. Didn’t realize until weeks later that without modern medicine, we both would have died. Here little body collapsing in the cage of my pelvis and mine collapsing from the complications of a dead baby inside of me. I didn’t count myself as lucky for having a c-section until I began to think about what would have happened if we lived the age before surgery, medication and post-surgical care. Death is what would have happened. The maternal and infant mortality rate back then was astronomical. For someone who uses Western medicine infrequently compared to traditional medicine, I was grateful for their heroic efforts. We were lucky I said. If just for the date of my own birth.
But, of course, humans are not infallible. It took them a long time to sew me up. Longer than it should have. I was so drugged on epidural and morphine and new mama happy hormones that I didn’t really inquire. They had also shamed me enough, subtly so but shamed just as much for laboring at home, that I didn’t inquire. I didn’t want more shame or judgement or answers containing BS because of their based on their opinions of me and my choices. So, I didn’t ask anymore questions. There was some murmuring that I found suspiscious. I had a sense that something went wrong. In the surgeon’s debreifing there was some telling but not telling: “It took us longer than usual to sew you up” (emphasis not mine), “I’ve never seen a bladder so swollen”, “This is why we don’t like to do c-sections after such a long labor”. My incision opened 10 days after her birth. Danny said it was open more than an inch and he could see the striated muscle. We had to irrigate it, rush water through it and stuff it with wads of cotton squares twice a day for months. It was on the left side. I couldn’t walk without a deep pain in my lower abdomen, below the insciosn for 5 months and even after that it still ached with too much movement for months after that.
I waited more than enough time to get pregnant again and I miscarried. By the time I was pregnant with you, I was more than twice as faraway from my c-section than is recommended. So, safe from rupture. Despite my luck during my last birth, despite the brush with death I hadn’t realized I had, I never considered that you would die. Not in the light of day. I woke in the night several times in cold-blooded terror that you were going to die but I told myself that was the darkness, the vulnerability that we experience during sleep and sleep-waking, the irrationality of the mid-night time. By the light of day, I would often say to myself and others “If we have him at home, great. If we end up in the hospital, great. No one’s going to die.” No one’s going to die. Not me, not my baby. Though I said it and woke in terror to the thought of it, it never really crossed my mind that it was an actual threat. That my baby could and would die. I did everything “right”.We’d be saved again, if we needed to be.
Or not. I would have that luck. Harvey…not so much.
Where the rupture was on my uterus was deep below where the incision had opened. Where I had always felt a weakness since her birth. Where, after they went in to sew the area that never healed after the rupture and your birth/death, the “gap” as they called it was deep below where the incision had opened. Where, after I recovered from that surgery, I felt strong again in my lower abdomen, especially on that left side. I realized I had been protecting that area since Vesta was born, that it had felt weak and vulnerable and that now that it was sown up and healed, I felt new again. Something was wrong in there all along. Bad luck. The worst, in fact.
And my mind looks for blame. The surgeons from the c-section: my surgical records could not be found when I called to get them for Harvey’s midwife? My first mid-wife: my doula thought Vesta got stuck because she had asked me too push to soon? Myself for attempting another homebirth? Harvey’s midwife for not seeing signs: even though there were none to find, maybe she missed something?
But no. There is no one to blame. And if there was malpractice or negligence or even just a mistake or something overlooked, which there wasn’t, it changes nothing. Not midwives or surgeons or myself or anyone else. It was series of choices, made by a bunch of people, with a devastating outcome no one intended or wanted or even imagined. It was life. With it’s torturous quality of 20/20 hindsight. Life is a series of events and effects, choices and consequences. We do the best we can. Each of us. And sometimes people die. Sometimes, my baby dies. It’s just life. And some seriously bad luck. The worst, in fact.
Back in the shower, we are lucky. Standing there just having enjoyed a weekend with two of our grand/parents who are in their 70s and healthy and able to play and splash and laugh and love us. We shared a room and meals and quests and pretend games and movies and our hearts with her best friend and my new love. We come from a family who can afford not only a trip across the coutnry but also an excessively fun and expensive weekend. We have our skin with this warm water dropping on it, soothing it, cleansing it. We have these bodies that work, that are healthy and strong and growing and changing and beautiufl. And we have each other. We are missing her brother, she is missing her father. Always always we notice their absence but she and I, we have each other. She didn’t die and I didn’t die and we are lucky. We are so fucking lucky.